TV Review - Grease: Live (2016)
Grease (1978) is currently the highest-grossing, musical film domestically, even adjusted for inflation. It's listed as #20 on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals. Its soundtrack was the 2nd best-selling album of the year of its release, producing two #1 singles, including "Summer Nights" and "You're the One That I Want." It was even nominated for an Academy Award, Best Original Song for "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which was recorded by Olivia Newton-John, the former female lead. Many will no doubt compare this version to that film, which is streaming on Netflix, but, in many ways this TV version is better or decidedly more fun.
Emmy-winner Julianne Hough (Dancing With the Stars and Footloose) co-stars as Sandy, a fellow senior in the fictional Rydell High School who transferred from Salt Lake City. She's described as a goody two-shoes. She's sweet and innocent, meaning virginal, but she falls in love with Danny over the summer prior to school starting without realizing that he has this cool guy, seemingly tough, greaser persona. She's more open, honest and unashamed. When she tries-out to be a cheerleader, she's revealed to be a great dancer. Her only problem is that her parents are somewhat strict. It's never stated, but coming from Utah, her family could be Mormon or highly religious and forbidding of her doing certain things like hanging out with horny greasers.
Like with most musicals of the romantic-comedy order, Danny and Sandy go back-and-forth with the essential question being if they'll overcome their very slight issues and ride off into the sunset together. The main focus is if Danny is willing to shed his greaser persona for his love of Sandy, if he's willing to respect her or just continue to be the cool guy.
The adult cast is pretty great with Ana Gasteyer, singer-comedienne from Saturday Night Live as Principal McGee who is trying to ensure her students are seen as clean and wholesome. Wendell Pierce (The Wire and Treme) plays Coach Calhoun, the football and sports leader in general presiding over seven seasons of loss. He takes it in stride and remains optimistic. Mario Lopez (Saved By the Bell and Extra) plays Vince Fontaine, the smooth and fast-talking, celebrity host of National Bandstand, the fictional version of American Bandstand.
Principal McGee announces early that National Bandstand will come to Rydell High and broadcast live from Rydell's gymnasium. Therefore, this live broadcast has a live broadcast within it, as such characters can comment or joke about it and have it resonate or echo to the outside world. It adds a little bit of levity to this production, which pushes the limits of what a live broadcast does in terms of scale. The dance sequence during the National Bandstand show, the "Born to Hand Jive" sequence, and even the final sequence, the showstopper of "We Go Together," wield choreography of what looks like hundreds of people.
In terms of the performances, yes, the show is built around Danny and Sandy, but their solos or even group songs don't turn to be as memorable as those by the supporting cast or even the guest stars. Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) plays Marty, the bourgeois Pink Lady in a long-distance relationship with a marine, and her performance of "Freddy My Love" is the first real standout in this production.
Boyz II Men guest star with their rendition of "Beauty School Dropout." It's a superfluous song that adds a little color in more ways than one to the show. However, Wanya Morris seems to give more than Frankie Avalon did in the original film.
Grease might be a very popular musical. The songs and the choreography are not as great as West Side Story (1961). It doesn't have anything as profound or even all that interesting to say as something like Hairspray (2007). Reflecting on 50's culture, one is best to watch Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Yet, this production is fun, as evidenced by "Born to Hand Jive" and it's amazingly well put together.
Five Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 3 hrs.
Aired live on Sunday, January 31, 2016 on FOX.
Available on FOX.com.